You can keep your jelly doughnuts, Hanukkah gelt, and Hanukkah cookies. For me, there is no Hanukkah food — nay, holiday food — that even comes close to a plateful of lacy-edged, crispy latkes with sour cream, apple sauce, and maybe a little smoked salmon. They are a miracle (both because they are delicious and because it is a custom to eat foods cooked in oil on Hanukkah to celebrate the miracle of the day's worth of oil that lasted for eight days). But for every toothsome, crisp-exterior/tender-interior, golden-brown potato pancake served this Hanukkah, there are dozens of burned, overcooked potato pucks or, worse, underdone, raw-middled, oily disasters. Perhaps saddest of all is the inevitable batch of perfectly cooked latkes that are improperly drained, stacked on top of one another, rendering them sad and limp before they even get a chance to go wading in a river of sour cream.
Through research and trial and error (so many failed batches of latkes), I have finally found the path laid down by so many latke-makers before me. What follows is all you need to know to achieve latke bliss.
Dry = Crispy This applies both to the type of potatoes you choose (drier varieties like Russet and Yukon Gold are my preference for traditional laktes) and to how you treat your grated potatoes and onions. The idea is to remove as much moisture as possible, so it is absolutely crucial not to skip wringing the hell out them. This is easy to do (and a great way to release any holiday-related stress): Simply place the grated potatoes and onions in three- to four-cup batches on a clean dish towel. Salt lightly, and let sit for about ten minutes, then gather up the edges to form a sack and twist, twist, twist over the sink until you remove as much liquid as will come out.
Don't Bother Peeling the Potatoes This one is controversial, but I feel strongly about it. As long as your potatoes are scrubbed clean, the peel will only add depth of flavor and texture.
Use the Right Kind of Oil, Plenty of It, and Make Sure It's Hot You want something with a high-ish smoke point (my preferences are safflower and grapeseed oil, and occasionally refined coconut oil if I'm making sweet-potato latkes — more on that later). Also, this is not the time to go light on the oil — you need plenty of it in your frying pan to properly cook the latkes (about half an inch). Finally, be sure that the oil is very hot before you add the potato batter, since too-cool oil will seep too deeply into the potatoes without properly cooking the exterior, leaving them pale and floppy.
Do Not Attempt to Rush the Process There is no such thing as great latkes in a hurry. Really good ones take time and need to be left alone while they cook. Don't crank up the heat while they cook, and don't flip them before each side has finished cooking.
Drain Them Really Well Draining is the final step that increases the crispiness of latkes, so don't skip it! It's important to draw out any excess oil so the latkes stay crispy. Drain your latkes on paper towels, and spread them in a single layer (don't pile them on top of each other — it defeats the purpose and makes them soggy). If you are cooking a large batch of latkes, arrange them on a rimmed baking sheet (or, better yet, on a rack on top of a rimmed baking sheet) and keep them warm in a 200°F oven for up to an hour.